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I have had a creative, messy, rewarding week, although it wasn’t spent in the studio or kitchen. Instead of paint or cake batter, my preferred medium the last few days has been soil. It says something that I had to return my brand new pair of suede gardening gloves because I wore them to shreds in less than 24 hours. After all that hard work, our front yard is full of dozens of blooms and the rich, wet-forest smell of mulch. It looks neater and more loved than it has in years, and at this point, I’m sure our neighbors think we are about to put our house on the market. :)

But this flurry of activity is about something much more significant than curb appeal. It is a tangible, exciting picture of hope. The years of neglect our property suffered were born of a home so full of illness, complications, and coping that it would have been sheer folly to expend energy on something as trivial as pulling weeds. For many slow-motion months in a row, I survived from one moment of God’s grace to the next, through multiple hospitalizations and setbacks. I needed desperately to be assured that all that pain could legitimately be called growth, that it promised to bear fruit somehow. When catastrophic flooding in 2010 washed the last of our topsoil and mulch down the hill and into the Harpeth River, it was so metaphorically appropriate as to provoke disbelief. Upon encountering the same scenario in a novel, the reader would be warranted in grumbling, “Really? Laying it on a bit thick, aren’t we?”

That’s the hard, brilliant truth of this life: it comes on strong, in heaps and waves. Our trials don’t conveniently wait in line until the trouble before has been tidily resolved. There is much hope to be found in today, to be sure: my son’s exuberant teenage smile, full of braces and potential; the smell of Banana Chocolate Chip muffins baking; a homeschool math lesson finished without angst. But sometimes my soul needs a good power-washing, to have the doubts and fears blasted away by Something That Shouldn’t Be but is anyway.

All this playing in the dirt, raking and planting, planning and doing seemed impossible a few years ago. It certainly felt out of reach last summer, lying in an ICU bed without the strength to lift my own head. It never entered my small, unimaginative mind that my body would be restored to this extent. After four spinal fractures in two years and a suggested maximum lifting limit of ten pounds, here I am hauling around bags of garden soil and digging holes? Most people talk about back-breaking work, but back-broken work is an altogether different story. I am not pain-free, but I have mud under my fingernails and the promise of springtime. For me, that’s hope.